National Instruments is one of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.” VP of HR Mark Finger reveals why.
By Christine Gatuiria
Mark Finger moved to Austin, Texas, from his home in Minnesota following a merger at his first company. At the time he envisioned a short stay in the Lone Star State, but then National Instruments (NI) recruited him in 1995 and he has continued to call Texas’ state capital home since. Finger today serves as the company’s Vice President of Human Resources (HR) and considers himself a fully fledged Austinite.
“Austin is a great town, Finger said, “[and] NI is a great company.”
NI, founded in 1976, designs and manufactures test and measurement tools for engineers and scientists. Finger originally was brought in to align the company’s HR functions with its rapid pace of growth. Because he had the requisite experience from working with a larger company earlier in his career, Finger quickly implemented recruitment and hiring procedures that significantly raised the company’s people advantage.
As stated in NI’s 100-year plan, the greatest and most sustainable long-term competitive advantage for the company is its culture and employees, and it is clear that Finger has been instrumental to the success of this strategy. He started out with a team of six in the HR department, managing approximately 1,200 employees. NI has since grown to almost 7,000 employees worldwide, and overall staff satisfaction and retention remain high. And then there are the awards.
In January 2013, Fortune magazine named NI among the nation’s 100 Best Companies USA for the fourteenth consecutive year. The company also has been recognized among the World’s Top 25 Multinational Workplaces and ranked by the Great Place to Work Institute as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” in China, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Japan, France, Mexico and the U.K.
These achievements are a testament to the strength of Finger’s leadership in developing a pipeline of productive people who work hard and stay loyal. The company maintains a comprehensive internship program and recruits candidates with high GPAs, selecting those who ace the technical and behavioral interviews and demonstrate strong collaborative, entrepreneurial and “get-along” skills. NI’s corporate culture is palpable and enduring, and makes perfect business sense under the lens of one of Finger’s favorite quotes by Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
One of the Team
“We hire the best and brightest, and grow our talent from a bottom-up approach,” Finger said. “We differentiate ourselves as more of a family.” NI works hard to balance the needs of employees, shareholders, customers and suppliers, and Finger readily inserts himself in the midst of this balancing act all every day.
He takes pride in maintaining approachability and knows his staff, building trust with employees through frequent one-on-one conversations. Finger does not sit behind a mahogany desk in a corner office. In fact, none of NI’s executives do; they work in cubicles just like the rest of the employees.
The overall culture at the company revolves around high levels of mutual trust and open lines of communication. Employees are free to ask questions, proffer ideas and challenge management decisions. NI does not need anonymous suggestion boxes to gauge the needs of their people. “I get my data pretty raw,” Finger said.
Finger’s HR accomplishments at NI are evidence of his strengths in ideation and strategic planning. He explains that he generates a lot of ideas and trusts his team to implement them and get the job done.
“I tend to paint the vision and establish the goal, and then I stay out of the way,” Finger said. One of his current challenges is keeping up with globalization. NI has a presence in 50 countries, and it is no easy feat trying to keep up with the expectations and growing needs of all employees.
“We’ve come a long way,” Finger acknowledged, “but there is still much to do.”
It is obvious in his words and actions that Finger loves his work, his people and his company. In a state where everything is bigger, he is also an advocate of community service and serves as Board Chair for Goodwill Industries of Central Texas.
Based on his extensive experience in human behavior and resource management, Finger urges all employees to take risks and to dare to think differently. Those who are hesitant to seek opportunity are likely to miss it, Finger said, adding “You control your own destiny far more than you realize.”
Christina Gatuiria is a freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO